Review: Roc Marciano – The Pimpire Strikes Back

Substantive technical skill can often be the foundation of cinematic rapping, and on The Pimpire Strikes Back, Roc Marciano contends to be New York’s resident adept. If the Long Island MC’s first release on Man Bites Dog Records is any indication of his forthcoming album Marci Beaucoup, then we can likely expect it to be another spectacular exercise in gritty street narrative. Ever-imitating the late-’90s style preferred by aging genre purists, innumerable rappers have employed this stark (and now tedious) template for decades with diminishing returns. Despite the odds, however, Marciano has found a way to improve upon an exhausted formula. The results are impressive: with every mixtape, he becomes more proficient at grimly depicting vivid criminality in tight, neatly packed verses that won’t leave your memory easily.

Stream: Roc Marciano – Doesn’t Last

Marciano has always forged his best work alone—both Marcberg  and Reloaded are almost entirely self-produced, with two guest features apiece or less. On The Pimpire Strikes Back he’s welcomed more assistance, although most of the strongest tracks are still his own productions. They’re mostly simple but effective soul and funk loops sifted through a layer of grainy vinyl filter, and Marciano sculpts these blocks into dynamic compositions. “I.D.K.” builds on a frantic back-and-forth juggle between vocal samples of a female chorus and a disembodied, eerie soul groan. “Doesn’t Last” relies on a pitched-up sample of Billy Preston’s “All Things Must Pass” (written by George Harrison), and doesn’t rely on bass at all—the only drum is a tinny snare to keep the tempo. It leaves plenty of breathing room so that you really get the full impact of bars like “smash ratchets/ ’till the shaft of my penis is flaccid” and “your mixtape’s done in poor taste/ I’m watching horses race.” This review could consist entirely of The Pimpire Strikes Back punchlines and it would still be difficult to distill the high quality of Marciano’s lyricism, but the truth is that he has a bountiful supply of effortless, illustrative couplets. The ephemeral, intense imagery of lines like “a higher plateau/ chateau/ the coke’s in the glass bowl/ lavender bathrobe” or “linen shirt, peach hardbottoms/ greek columns/ trees with koalas/ drinks with the olives/ sniff a lot of coke through a dollar” on “Higher Learning” provide a brief descriptive snapshot of life in the Pimpire.

Stream: Roc Marciano – Higher Learning

When Marciano does recruit assistance on The Pimpire Strikes Back it’s within narrow criteria: there’s an underlying expectation that everyone involved play according to his rules, and so you’ll never hear guests like Action Bronson, Meyhem Lauren, or Knowledge The Pirate steer away from condensed discussions of drugs, guns, women, or money (one of the few exceptions to this is Bronson’s eternal love of food, which guarantees that “a very subtle mild lemon sauce, Sicilian capers” doesn’t sound out of place on “Velvet Cape“). That’ll probably be the gripe of those criticizing The Pimpire Strikes Back—that the illustrations can never extend beyond a verse, let alone be conceptually consistent for the length of an entire song. But by now, that shouldn’t be expected of Marciano’s style, and as he says in the bridge of “Sincerely Antique“:  “maybe y’all n*ggas already know…these are moments.”

Roc Marciano’s The Pimpire Strikes Back is out now. Download via Soundcloud.

Gabriel Herrera

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